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Serbia: Striking Belgrade Students Use Internet To Build Support

Prague, 29 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Striking university students in Belgrade and Nis have turned to the Internet's World Wide Web to publicize protests against the government of Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic.

The students have established three student protest home pages on the Internet. Belgrade's embattled independent news media have linked their Web sites to the student protesters' home pages.

The students have been on strike since Monday in support of mass protests against the government's decision to annul local elections in which the opposition defeated the ruling Socialists in towns and cities across the country. The protests are in their tenth day.

So far the students have created two home pages on the World Wide Web. These pages link to Belgrade's embattled independent news media: the daily "Nova Borba," Radio B-92, and the weeklies "Novi Telegraf" and "Nezavisna Svetlost."

The student home pages are in English only. One, the "Official home page of the PROTEST 96"is issued at the University of Belgrade. It shows a splattered egg as a symbol of this week's protests and a color photograph of a recent protest demonstration.

The students say that to overcome what they term "the information blockade in our country" at a time when, they say, "the situation in Belgrade and Serbia is becoming more and more dramatic," they appeal to fellow students around the world for "any kind of support."

The home page contains a "declaration of decency" in which the students express support for Serbia's citizens demanding protection of their constitutional rights. The declaration appeals to "all participants in the current crisis to abstain from any and all violence." And it says that "the brutal violation of law and annulment of regular electoral results represent an unprecedented attack on the basic principles of democracy."

The students say they are not taking sides in the dispute between the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia and the opposition, but insist on the rule of law.

"Any government unwilling to acknowledge its electoral defeat does not deserve our support," they say.

The students call for the immediate establishment of an electoral committee to be formed by the parties that took part in the second round of voting on November 17. The committee is to establish "objectively" the outcome of the run-off.

The students so far have made no specific mention of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who has become the target of public protests. But early correspondence from the Serbian diaspora on the student Web sites contains strongly anti-Milosevic sentiments.

The other protest home page is created by Belgrade University's Departments of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.It carries daily selections from the student protest paper BOOM, which describes the course of the demonstrations, notes official media attempts to play down the size of the protests and reports on strikes in other university departments.

BOOM's Web site also contains excerpts from U.S. news media coverage of the Belgrade protests.

Besides these two student Web sides, established news organizations such as "Nova Borba," Radio B-92 and "Nezavisna Svetlost" have their own Web sites. These contain daily updated reports on demonstrations in and outside Belgrade -- in Nis, Kragujevac, Zrenjanin, Kraljevo and Jagodina.

In the face of government repression against Serbia's independent news media, all these Web sites objective domestic news reporting. But they are available only to those wired to the Internet.